“[When I think about Peru] I think about how friendly the people are there and how they treat you like family even if they don’t know you, and I wish that it could be like that here in the USA.” – Two years after my first birth country trip, 14 years old, 2003
I first went back to visit my birth country when I was about to turn 12 years old. It was something that was EXTREMELY important to me from a very young age, so when I was “FINALLY” told we were going to Perú, I was ecstatic.
My mom, our family friend, and my bio brother and his family (dad, mom, and their 2 biological sons) headed to Lima and Cuzco for two weeks in December 2003. As our car pulled away from our house, I remember watching my front door disappear from my view in the back seat and feeling panicked. Tears rolled down my face as I realized something huge: I was going far, far away from the only home I knew! It hadn’t crossed my mind before that I didn’t REALLY know what was waiting for me in my birth country. I was sad, quiet, and nervous, but those nerves soon dissipated.
The experience quickly swallowed me up from the time we boarded our flight and I didn’t want it to stop. I loved being on the Latin American airline, where all the flight attendants spoke to me in Spanish; I loved visiting the hostel where my mom stayed while she adopted me; I loved the ice cream carts with the vendors yelling in the streets; I loved giving Polaroid sticker pictures to the curious kids on the streets; I loved being the only one not affected by altitude sickness; I loved eating Peruvian food; I loved learning and SEEING the history, MY history; I loved being around people that looked like me, MY people!
Everything was new and exciting and just so awesome, and by the time we had to fly home, I was crying again. I never wanted to leave; this country, MY country, had become my new home! Being there, I felt among family. I remember our tour guides, the owners of the hostel we stayed in, vendors I took photos with…they all stand out clearly in my mind even now because they all had a story that I felt was interwoven with my own. They became a part of me.
I returned to the States a fuller person, and I wanted to share my experiences with everyone, but especially with those close to me. I was lucky enough to have another family to go home to: my Peruvian adoptee friends. At around age 8, my mom and I started going to a culture camp for Peruvian adoptees and their families called Nuestra Herencia. It was the greatest thing for the simple fact that I met tons of other Peruvian adoptees that were just like me. They were my best friends and family, and still are, and so I was extremely happy to talk to a couple of my friends that I knew had also traveled to Perú, exchange pictures, and laugh about our experiences. It was positive for me to be amongst the familiar faces again.
I went back to Perú a second time when I was 19 on my own, but this time it was for both personal and academic reasons. I lived in Lima for a year, studying and traveling, and my experience was quite different to the two week vacation I spent with my family. At the end of my year there, I returned to New York where I was attending college and felt alone. I was far from my mom and my birth family and my home state and my birth country. I was lost in the middle of it all. In my desperation, I exerted myself researching sources of support because there were none simply existing at my fingertips, and the adoptee community surrounded me again. I was able to make connections all over New York, New Jersey, and the Midwest with adult adoptees, many of who became instant friends, mentors, and academic idols…MY PEOPLE! It didn’t matter that most were not Peruvian adoptees; their country of origin really made no difference. They were the community I needed who could listen, share perspectives, and most importantly, relate to many of my feelings. I learned so much from the stories that my friends shared with me. This comforted me and cleared some of the haze.
Of course, this is also when I found The Ties Program and Becca Piper.
Sometimes giving support is the best way to receive support, so when I learned about Ties, I had to be a part of that family. I have been to Cambodia as a Connect & Chat facilitator twice now, and each trip shows me how important it is for adoptees to have a community, a family of one another. The trip begins and everyone is adjusting, but the shy friendliness rapidly turns to intimate friendship amongst adoptees (and sometimes more than that!) because the experience of the trip, of being an adoptee, is something so unique that only we can truly connect with.
On my recent trip, the adoptees spent a lunch designating family roles for themselves: who was the mom, who was the dad, who was a sister, a brother, and so on…this was on the second day! Ties is such a great name for this organization, because it truly does help create solid ties among all the adoptees that do birth country travel together. I think it’s great to do exploration on your own, and there are definitely times when birth country travel calls for that. I also think that the adoptee community is something too exciting to miss out on and has so much to offer, and it’s important that adoptees know that others exist out there in the world!
A social work student recently interviewed me about my family for her thesis project. She asked, “What is ‘family’?” I wish I could have related all of these stories to her because for me, that is how I would explain family: my adoptee community.